Restoration Wrap on the South Fork Smith River

Siskiyou Land Conservancy Completes Phase I of Forest Health/Fuels Reduction Project

Humboldt State University master's student Vanessa Vasquez loads slash onto a burn pile.

Siskiyou Land Conservancy has completed Phase I of a planned multi-part restoration project to improve forest health and reduce the danger of catastrophic fire on private land along the South Fork Smith River.

Last June, Ashland, Oregon-based Lomakatsi Restoration Forestry completed most of the heavy work to thin and pile conifers and brush on 12 acres of the 148-acre parcel, which is surrounded by the Smith River National Recreation Area. Since then SLC personnel and volunteers have continued piling slash in the restoration area, and we have been busy pruning branches up to six feet on every tree in the project.

Lomakatsi Workforce Director Aaron Nauth measures tree diameters during restoration activities on the South Fork Smith River. Siskiyou Land Conservancy donated the larger boles to local residents for firewood.

Debris from restoration work was piled and burned in the six-acre “north unit” of the restoration project. SLC has opted to scatter the smaller material on six-acre “south unit” to decompose under the heavy rains of the Smith River, which can reach 200 inches per year in the Big Flat area. Decomposing material will provide important soil structure in the recovering forest, and will prevent carbon loading from burning piles. If the material breaks down quickly, as expected, then SLC may opt to maintain the practice throughout the life of the project. Most of the larger material, such as five-foot Douglas fir boles ranging from three to six inches in diameter, were removed from the site and donated to local residents for firewood.

“Before the current owners acquired this property it was held by industrial timber companies that clear-cut much of the landscape, resulting in densely regenerating conifers that are choking out wildlife and forest diversity and compacting and eroding soils,” said Greg King, executive director of Siskiyou Land Conservancy. “We’re really thrilled to be jump-starting the recovery of this forest.”

Thinning the densely packed conifers opened up the forest canopy to allow light to penetrate the forest floor, thereby diversifying plant growth and habitat structure. Added light will also allow the otherwise stifled conifers to grow at a normal rate and improve timber volume.

Siskiyou Land Conservancy holds a conservation easement that protects habitat and water quality on the property. The South Fork Smith River restoration effort will occur in several phases, eventually treating up to 100 acres of the 148-acre property. The rest of the property consists primarily of pristine meadows, white oak woodlands, and mature redwood groves. The property also contains the easternmost redwoods on the Smith River, and the largest privately owned flat along the South Fork. Rare stands of Port Orford cedar, which appear to be unaffected by the root disease (Phytophthora lateralis) that has devastated the species throughout much of its range, dot the landscape.

Burning piles at dawn (shown here on the north unit of the Smith River restoration site) is a great way to get warm in the morning. Fire is a safe and effective means of disposing of slash from restoration work, though it does contribute some carbon to the atmostphere.

Funding for the restoration effort was provided in large part by the a 50 percent grant from the U.S. Natural Resource Conservation Service. Lomakatsi, the landowners, the SLC general fund, and SLC contributors and volunteers provided the other half of the cost-share program.

Contributions in support of SLC’s restoration efforts may be sent to: Siskiyou Land Conservancy, P.O. Box 4209, Arcata, CA 95518. Donations are tax deductible and much appreciated.

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